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Ex-prof’s strip club habit sticks Drexel University with $190K bill

Government lawyers say Chikaodinaka "Chika" Nwankpa ran up an exorbitant tab over a decade with federal grant funds he was supposed to have used for energy, science, and naval – not navel – research.

Drexel University.
Drexel University.Read moreMichael Bryant / Staff Photographer

The former head of Drexel University’s electrical engineering department blew hundreds of thousands of federal research dollars at area strip clubs, government lawyers said. Now, the school is stuck paying the tab.

The Justice Department announced Monday a nearly $190,000 settlement that the university agreed to pay to fend off a potential lawsuit.

The sum stems from tabs Chikaodinaka Nwankpa, 56, spent on dancers over a decade using grant money he was supposed to have applied to energy, science, and naval — not navel — research.

University auditors uncovered Nwankpa’s misspending in 2017. But the professor had hardly been modest about his extracurricular research.

According to government lawyers, he submitted several improper charges against his federal grants for “goods and services” billed at “gentlemen’s clubs” including Club Risque and Cheerleaders in South Philadelphia and the Tacony Club between 2007 and 2017. Investigators also allegedly found misspending at sports bars and on iTunes.

Once confronted, Nwankpa decided to bare all. He admitted the unauthorized expenses, resigned his post, and agreed to pay back $53,328 — less than a third of the overall bill he ran up.

A university spokesperson said Monday that Drexel reported Nwankpa’s misconduct to authorities and cooperated with the investigation. Since then, the school has instituted additional training for faculty and staff and beefed up its auditing controls.

“Drexel takes allegations of unethical or unlawful business conduct on the part of any members of the university community very seriously and remains committed to being in full compliance with all billing regulations and requirements,” spokesperson Niki Gianakaris said.

A spokesperson for U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain’s office said Monday’s settlement did not preclude prosecution of Nwankpa.

“This is an example of flagrant and audacious fraud, and a shameful misuse of public funds,” said McSwain, whose office negotiated the agreement with Drexel after an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the inspectors general of the U.S. Energy Department and the National Science Foundation.

Nwankpa did not return calls for comment Monday. He spent 27 years teaching in Drexel’s electrical and computer engineering department, chairing it from 2015 until he left.

During that time, he was among the university’s top attractors of research grant funds, boasting in his faculty bio that he had landed more than $10 million in research money throughout his career.